Check In

I’ve just laced up my shoes to go for a run (literally – like, my sneakers are on my feet as I type this). I need to get this run in now because it is early enough that the weight of all that needs to be done today is still suspended; once it begins to lower, I will feel its pressure and be unable to fit in anything beyond What Needs To Be Done.

But I need to run. I need to get outside. I need to be moving – not just because, when I’m stressed and busy, I eat like a teenager without a metabolism, but because my body and mind absolutely need exercise to be functional. And now is not the time to ignore my physical and emotional health.

For a variety of reasons – some of them within my control and others not – this is the busiest I have ever been in my life. That’s not hyperbole, and it’s saying something, considering my ADHD-tendency to Never Be Able To Sit Still. Simply put, I bit off more than I could chew, and I didn’t realize that until it was too late.

In future years, I will be more discerning, but for this year, I simply need to get things done. And, as the weight of it begins to bear down on me, as I look at my To Do book and realize, “Crap, how the *%$! will I fit that in?” and then realize all I’ve left off of the To Do book, I’m starting to crack a little. Last night, I felt the familiar warnings of a panic attack begin to close in. I was able to stop it before it fully realized itself, but it scared me.

So, I need this run today.
And yet here I am, writing. ‘Cause I need to say this.

I’m sure by now everyone has seen the news of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain, both of whom died by suicide. To be honest, I wasn’t all that familiar with either of these influential and bright souls (I certainly knew who they were, but didn’t follow them closely), and yet their deaths, especially coming so close to one another, have affected me deeply. They just hit so close to home.

As I’ve discussed publicly many times, I – like so, so many – suffer from anxiety and depression. And, like so, so many, I am someone who, generally, appears to be the very kind of person who could not possibly be anxious or depressed. I mean, I’m bubbly. I’m involved (see above: so many things to do). I’m outgoing. I’m friendly. I’m funny. I post cheery photos of my children and sunrises and puppies and chocolate. I look on the bright side and reach out to those in my community and try to life people up.
Lovely evening light…

And yet, every day – every single damned day – there’s something that sets off my anxiety, that makes my stomach hurt a little, that brings heat to my chest. Most days, thankfully, that’s all that happens; I feel those gross, anxious flutters, am able to tell them to shove off, and go about my day. But they’re there, every. single. day – even when I’m laughing or joking or posting photos of Broadway playbills.

There are also days when my anxiety takes over and I cry about deciding what to have for dinner, or it’s easier to stay in than go meet friends for dinner. And yes, there was a time when I was so clinically depressed, I could barely function. From the outside, though, almost nobody knew.

You see, it is entirely possible to be anxious or depressed AND STILL have other wonderful things going on in your life. This is not an either-or proposition, and focusing on the good stuff isn’t lying – it’s what gets me through.

Reading tribute after tribute last night to Tony Bourdain (his friend all called him Tony, it seems) was what began my near-panic attack; it was just all too familiar, too sad, too much. I pulled myself away, for my own wellbeing, but I know I will return to it because this is just too important.

Depression is real. Anxiety is real. They are as real as cancer or a broken arm. They are not things that can be wished away by positive thinking. When someone has a panic attack or cannot drag themselves out of bed, they don’t need to “man up” or “put on their big girl pants.” When someone who is depressed dies by suicide, they did not make a selfish choice or lose their faith in God or give up or didn’t love their family. Their brain was sick and not functioning properly and lied to them, causing them to genuinely believe they had no other choice – or that they were, in fact, making a good choice, for themselves and all around them.

If you are depressed or anxious, help is available. I know that actually getting that help can be nearly impossible, both because it’s like asking someone with a broken leg to walk to the hospital, and because even if you get to the hospital there might not be surgeons available… but it’s available. It’s out there. Please, please seek help. This is not a sign of weakness; in fact, it’s the very bravest, strongest, kick-assest thing you can do.

If you are depressed or anxious, you are not alone. There are so many of us who understand, who get how freakin’ hard and maddening and exhausting it is. And there are even more of us who know you are awesome and worthy of being here, simply because you are you. We believe in you, and we want you to hold on. Hold on for today.

And then, tomorrow, know that we believe in you and love you and want you here. Hold on tomorrow. And the next day? Let’s do it all again.

This cannot fall entirely on those who are suffering from mental illness, however. Like all problems, expecting those who are in the thick of it to do the heavy lifting is self-defeating and stupid. We, as humans, need to look out for our fellow humans, and we need to be proactive in our looking-out. Telling someone who lost a spouse, “Let me know how I can help!” – while well meaning – is dumb, because a person in the throes of grief can barely tie their shoes, let alone inform you that the fridge is bare. Just show up with the casserole.

The same is true with mental illness. If you know someone is struggling, don’t wait for them to tell you more; reach out. Ask how they’re doing. If they say they’re fine, genuinely ask how they really are. If they still insist all is well – and it might be – tell them how awesome they are, that you’re there any time, and that you’ll check in again. And then do it.

If you don’t know someone is struggling, ask anyway. Be real. Be interested. Be kind. You never know – and, again, this is not hyperbole – when your simple, “I really like your shirt!” is the thing that entirely turned around another person’s day.

Okay. Time for that run.
And then I’ll attempt to do all that needs To Be Done today. I will try to remember to breathe. I will cry if I need to. I will still post pictures of food, because food is delicious. And I will never forget that I am not alone.
Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255

Are you there, Spring? It’s me, Emily.

There are as many varieties of anxiety and depression as there are people struggling with them. For some folks, the weather is a particularly powerful trigger – and for those of us who live in climates that are endlessly gray and snowy during the winter months, this can be doubly so. (Seasonal affective disorder is very real, yo.)

While there are a gazillion things that bring my anxiety and depression to the fore (I mean, with anxiety, it’s every single thing, amiright?!), the weather has – mercifully – never really been among them. That’s not to say that I haven’t been bummed when it’s snowed for 49 straight weeks or we haven’t seen sun since the Bush years, but overall, I like winter. I love Rochester. And spring has never not arrived, so I tend to not fret too much about the weather.

This year, though? I have had enough. I don’t mean that I’m ready to move on from winter… I mean that I am done. DONE. SO EFFING DONE AND UP TO HERE with the cold and the snow and the gray and the ice storms and the utter lack of anything even remotely springlike. If I see one more snowflake, I swear that I will wrestle winter to the ground with my bare hands.

There are the stats, of course: More than 121″ of snow this season (that’s more than 20% above normal). It snowed on 15 out of the first 19 days in April – nothing major, but when nearly every single gosh-darn day is gray and snowy and absolutely freezing (we’re on track for the coldest April since 1874), when it is supposed to be spring, Sweet Baby Jesus why, it’s really, really difficult.

And that’s for people who haven’t tried every antidepressant on the shelf.

Screen Shot 2018-04-20 at 10.27.30 AM
Screenshot of a Facebook Live graphic shared by our local weatherman.

My grandma used to say that it always snows on the daffodils – and that’s been true. So I try not to get my hopes too high that winter is officially caput the moment the crocuses pop through… but I also am reminded that this happens every single damned year, and the daffodils still thrive and the snow melts and spring emerges triumphant, so I don’t need to consider selling the house when there are flurries on Mother’s Day.

The difference this “spring” is that there are no daffodils yet to snow on. MY ENTIRE NEIGHBORHOOD IS DEVOID OF DAFFODIL BLOOMS. It’s one thing for winter to breathe a last gasp after spring’s arrival, like a grumpy old man reminding the whippersnappers that he was really something in his day; people are sympathetic and pat winter on the head, but it’s spring’s time now, thanks.

But when winter never left – when spring is a full month behind and has not showed up at all – there are no sympathy head-pats. There is rage and despair and threats and day drinking and an uptick in Google searches for “affordable places to move.” My therapist told me her schedule is unusually full because she’s had to take on several new clients; literally everyone who comes into her office mentions the weather and how defeating it is. This makes me feel less alone but not less rage-y.
We were in D.C. over April break. It was not springy there, either.

I’ve always said that, although I love Rochester, I could live in any number of places so long as there were four distinct seasons of reasonable length. A few months ago, I was chatting with another volunteer on the playground who’d recently relocated from California back to western New York – a move that usually elicits sympathy head-pats. For her part, though, she was thrilled: they are closer to family. Housing is crazy affordable. Schools are excellent. And she was just so sick of Los Angeles weather.

Um, what?

She explained: yeah, it’s great to be warm and sunny, like, 364 days a year. It really is. But she had lost all sense of an inner time clock because there was virtually no difference between the seasons. Seeing me wonder what the heck she was talking about, she asked: What did I like about the seasons? Why were they so important to me?

How much time did she have?

I love the smells – spring rain is so fresh; fall leaves are earthy and cozy; winter smoke is warm and inviting; humid summer breezes carry with them such joy and contentment. There’s such excitement as the new season approaches; after a sweaty August, we’re ready to bundle up… but equally thrilled to ditch our parkas as the days lengthen in April.
Ice storm trees… from April. When it’s supposed to be, you know, spring.

She nodded with understanding and then added a twist: the changes that accompany each season mentally help us set our calendars. In fall, we anticipate that Thanksgiving is coming when we feel the leaves crunching beneath our shoes. We know it’s almost time for the New Year when we have to shovel with regularity. As we switch out our sweaters for tank tops, we realize that Memorial Day will be here soon. We measure mid-summer by how often we need to mow the lawn and weed the garden.

In Rochester, our activities are season-dependent. We swim in the summer and eat dinner outside. In autumn, we pick apples and get out the long sleeves. Winter is the time for sledding and cozying up with a book by the fire. Spring means opening the windows and firing up the grill.

Without distinct seasons, the months just blend into one another. Whereas we western New Yorkers mark summer with frequent ice cream runs – because summer is ice cream season, by gosh – in Los Angeles, every single day is appropriate for ice cream. Which, she said, is cool at first… but eventually, nothing is special. Without seasons and their accompanying activities, time passed in a strange way, devoid of the usual markers; she felt lost.


So it’s been this “spring.” Our usual markers are gone. There are no budding leaves, no lawns to mow, no *$(#! daffodils. Although it’s stayed light later, there’s no eating outside because it’s too damned cold. The birds have returned and make a ruckus in the morning, but when you open the blinds and see it’s snowing – again – there’s a total disconnect. Which is followed by wailing and gnashing of teeth and general desperation.


Arlington was none too thrilled with this snow squall a couple of weeks ago.

We are ready for spring, for everything that comes along with it – and, in its absence, there is disorientation. For those of us prone to depression, this utter lack of normal, of forward motion, of hope that things will be different has been hard. Like, worse-than-usual hard.

Virtually the only thing that’s kept me from completely losing it is that, logically, I know spring will come. I mean, SPRING HAS TO COME does it not? It simply cannot remain winter forever. Some day – really damned soon, for the love of all things holy – it will be warmer. The snow will stop. We will see the sun again. .

Y’all, Mother Nature is a woman and I believe in her. Women are badass. Women persist. I BELIEVE IN MOTHER NATURE.

To everyone for whom this unending bear of a winter has been just awful: you are not alone. You are not the only ones refusing to bring your coat because it is SPRING, by God, and you’re sick of the coat that’s been on since Columbus Day, and you don’t care if you develop hypothermia walking to the car. I understand that you may still feel ragingly despondent, but at least we can be ragingly despondent together. And when spring does finally arrive,  we will celebrate as though we’ve won the freaking lottery.

The first person who complains that it’s too warm, however, will be wrestled to the ground with my bare hands.
Frosty… but sunny. It’s a start.


The Case For Facebook

One of the best side effects of my concussion is that I got hooked on podcasts. From My Brother, My Brother and Me to S-Town, The Splendid Table to The Longest Shortest Time, not a day goes by when I’m not listening, learning, or laughing (sometimes with headphones on, which makes people stop and look but that’s cool).

Perhaps most lovely was my discovery of The Hamilcast, a podcast devoted to all things Hamilton (the musical, obvs). The moment I found it, I binge-listened, then began to support the podcast through Patreon, which allowed me to join a Facebook group for likeminded Hamilcast peeps. At first, it was merely an opportunity to learn about upcoming guests in advance and put forth questions that might be asked during interviews. Over these many months, however, the Patreon group has grown into much more. We share all things Ham, of course, but also just… life. Halloween pumpkins. Business trips. Ridiculous memes. Difficult days. It is a safe haven of the internet and one of my favorite places to be.


The girls’ reaction to hearing their questions answered by none other than Lin-Manuel Miranda himself on The Hamilcast.

That may seem like an oxymoron – “internet” and “safe haven.” And I agree; so much of the internet (like, SO MUCH) is an awful, soul-sucking wasteland. It’s exhausting and maddening. When the virtual world gets really nasty and even dog fail videos don’t help, I turn to my most reliably comforting internet spot: Facebook.

Yes, Facebook. I KNOW. For a whole lotta people, Facebook is the devil. Whether it’s preferring to interact in person rather than virtually; feeling left out or disappointed or intimidated after reading someone’s status update; being overwhelmed by the sheer volume of information; growing disheartened or downright furious when you discover that your neighbor doesn’t share your political views; or just not caring that Jim decided to order the cherry finish instead of walnut, Facebook can make people get all up in their bad feelings. And I get that. A lot of what appears on my timeline isn’t exactly fascinating nor does it make me chuckle.

Despite Mark Zuckerberg’s envisioning Facebook as a place for building community and bringing the world closer together, I know that a lot of people feel much lonelier as a result of joining up. I guess I’m lucky in that Facebook has pretty much always brought me exactly what I’ve been looking for: connection and information (and lots of RIPs when celebrities die).

I don’t consider myself a school reunion type. I’ve always reasoned that the people I want most to keep in touch with are the ones with whom I, um, keep in touch… and the others, while nice enough (or not; I can think of several classmates who I still wish were perennially stuck in traffic), were just casualties of growing up and moving on. No biggie.

Then along came Facebook, and I’m friends with a bunch of these very people – folks who were mere acquaintances in 11th grade or who moved away when we were nine – who, in a world devoid of social media, I would probably have never run into again… and I wouldn’t have bemoaned that. Yet because of Facebook, despite having not actually laid eyes on these guys in 20 or 30 years, I weirdly know more about them – their jobs, where they spent the Fourth of July, which of their children or dogs dressed as poop emojis for Halloween – than I ever did in “real life.”

Even weirder? I care. When they don’t post for a while, I wonder how they are. When they succeed, I’m genuinely happy for them; when tragedy strikes, I’m honestly bummed. And, since I consider them to be friends (virtual friends? Vriends?), I value their opinions and experiences. My 7th grade math partner loves their cast iron more than their Teflon? Point taken. That kid from the cross country team had a better experience with Lyft than Uber? Interesting. My buddy who switched schools in fourth grade is talking about what it’s like to raise her adopted daughter? I’m listening.

I may never see these people again face-to-face, but being pals with them online has enriched my life. And brought me whitening toothpaste. So that’s a plus.

It’s not just my relationships with far-flung vriends (it’s gross but I’m using it) that have been enriched, though – I appreciate how Facebook has changed my “in-person” friendships, too. Life is so freakin’ busy, I don’t take the time to contact the slacker Girl Scout moms or my Mothers and More group every time I bring a dog to the vet or watch a soccer game or Nick goes out of town. But if the dog looked super adorable… or my girl scored a goal… or we ate banana splits for dinner because Nick was away… I might have put it on Facebook.
Super adorable dog.

Which means the next time I actually get together with the Girls Scout mamas or my Mothers and More crew, we have a head start ’cause we’re already caught up on the random minutiae of one another’s days. Consider this: when I haven’t seen a friend for a while but really want to reconnect, we usually spend time with pleasantries (“Read any good books lately?” “Jeez with this rain, huh?”) as we settle in. But when we’ve been following one another’s online posts, we’re ahead of the game (“Was that her first goal of the year?” “What was the whipped-cream-to-banana ratio?”) and get right to the good stuff – the stuff that doesn’t go on Facebook.

See, I don’t use Facebook for everything; I actually keep the vast majority of my life to myself. Ironically, most of my closest friends aren’t active on Facebook (or we don’t use the platform as our primary means of discussion). When something is really important, it sure as heck won’t go on Facebook first. But I do find it an extremely efficient means of communicating, and use it often.

That’s not to say that everything appearing on my timeline is brilliant or enlightening; obviously, there’s plenty of crap. Alongside the photos of someone’s lunch and the rant about fracking, though, there’re also some really substantive things that have taught me about topics I’d never have discovered on my own. Boots for wide feet? Thanks, Facebook! How to self-publish a book? Facebook told me. The neatest sites for following hurricanes? Found ’em through Facebook. Pool liners? Paralympic athletes? Restaurants in Sicily? Secular Judaism? How to be an ally? As seen on Facebook. My timeline shows me what’s happening beyond my corner of the world, from vriends and friends I trust and respect, and I think that’s pretty solid.

Most importantly, Facebook has provided a place for connection when I’ve really needed it. This has never been more poignant than when I’ve shared my struggles with, and thoughts about, depression and anxiety – as well as the daily mistakes I’ve made being a human. After those posts, the number of people who reach out – privately and publicly – to say, “Me too. I didn’t know you felt this way. I’m so glad I’m not alone” – has been astonishing. Because of our connection through Facebook, people I know, and I, have felt stronger, supported, comforted. If nothing else good comes from it, that would be enough.

I know Facebook doesn’t work for a lot of folks because they feel their lives never measure up to the perfect ones scrolling in front of them. Maybe that’s part of why the platform does work for me: I take everyone’s updates with a grain of salt. Just as I’m aware that I only post what I want the world to see, I know the same is true for my vriends. This is especially helpful when a colleague puts up a photo of her brand new kitchen cabinets and I’m attaching mine together with wood glue and rubber bands (literally).
IMG_4017 2
No joke.

That doesn’t mean I won’t share the photo of my glued and rubber-banded cabinets (ahem); I like to keep it real. Not in an Anything Goes kind of way, but in a balanced way that reflects what’s actually happening rather than creating a shiny, polished version of my story. If it’s been a good few days, my updates will reflect that – but when I lose someone I love or spill coffee all over my purse or wear two different shoes to work, I’ll mention that, too. If the point is connection, my shiny, polished self doesn’t really allow for that.

A friend posted recently that she’d participated in a research discussion asking whether or not Facebook is good for the world. If I’d participated, I wouldn’t have been able to give a one-size-fits all response… but for my world? Facebook has been pretty dang good. Especially where The Hamilcast, dog memes, and self-help quizzes are concerned.
Listening to The Hamilcast… with cute dogs.

Knocking Down Hurdles

In a matter of minutes, all hell broke loose.

We’d just returned from Minnesota – 12 lovely, fun-filled, family-rich days. It was a great trip, especially watching Ella and Annie enjoy the heck out of their cousins. Still, 12 days is a long time (for us; okay, for me), and – creature of habit and structure that I am – I was looking forward to being home.

The Re-Entry Itinerary contained some standard hurdles to leap (or, in my case, to knock over; according to the Olympics, basically anything goes with regard to hurdles, right?). Dirty clothes, empty fridge, unpacking. The grass was at least 8″ tall and we had the usual back-to-school litany: teacher meetings, orientations, sports, shopping.

All perfectly do-able — but, still, a rather jam-packed couple of days that would require me to turn off my Summer Brain and dial back into something vaguely resembling Competent School Year Brain. I just needed to keep my old, uninvited visitor, Anxiety, in check, and all would be well.

I’ve done pretty well making Anxiety talk to the hand this summer. I mean, summer and I will never be BFFs, but I’ve learned how to acknowledge Anxiety’s presence while not allowing her in.

Although the flight home was uneventful, traveling is always a bit exhausting, and I was doing that self-talk thing that we who struggle with anxiety know all too well: It’s all good, just keep going, I’ve got this. Not ten minutes after walking in the house, we discovered that Langston had a double ear infection. An Urgent Vet Visit had not been in the Re-Entry Itinerary. But, in between the grocery store and mowing and swim practice, I could slip in a trip to the dog doctor. Deep breaths. Hurdle added. I’ve got this.
Pitiful vet-visit face.

Since, in that moment, I couldn’t help poor Lang out, I decided I might as well accomplish something and took the first load of Minnesota Trip laundry down to the basement. There, in front of the washer, lay a strip of dried-up blue duct tape – the “fix” I’d applied to the tear in the rubber seal to prevent it from leaking. Anxiety raised her hand, contemplating knocking, but I told her to back off – then took another deep breath, gave myself another pep talk, applied another strip of tape, stuffed a towel at the base of the machine, and hoped that it would hold.

It wasn’t until I turned around to go upstairs that I scanned the room and saw, clear as day, at least an inch of standing water covering the far side of the basement. A further scan revealed a wide-open window (screen still attached), the cinder block wall damp beneath it.

Hurdle. Added.

(Our best guess was that a huge rainstorm must’ve overloaded the window well, causing the window to burst open from the pressure. GOOD TIMES.)

A review of the damage revealed that my teaching boxes, stacked under the window, were soaked, their cardboard frames flimsy and soft. Nick’s music equipment – guitar pedals, sound-effect-thingies (that’s the technical name), microphones, speakers – sat on the floor, surrounded by water. Without thinking, I grabbed a towel (not the one protecting the washing machine, thank you very much) and threw it into the lagoon; instantaneously, it sank to the bottom, useless and drenched.

My old, uninvited visitor was now persistently banging on the door. I could feel warmth rising in my chest; my pulse began to throb in my ears. When you regularly deal with anxiety, you learn which “helpful” strategies work for you and which make you want to punch someone. For me, mindful, slow, feel-like-an-ass-but-it’s-actually-calming breathing is my go-to. Deep breaths. Come on. Innnn two-three-four… Out two-three-four…

Surveying the mess, I understood this was not something I could tackle on my own. I don’t have this. Not right now.

I went to get Nick.

Together, we got the music stuff out of harm’s way, closed the window, picked up the sopping wet rugs and dragged them outside, rearranged the furniture so it was no longer in the lagoon, gathered enough towels to actually absorb the water, and made sure the dehumidifier and a fan were running. The non-stop action enabled me to momentarily suppress the panic that was waiting impatiently on the doorstep.

Hurdles: not gracefully leapt, but definitely knocked down.

The dog to the vet. The soaking wet basement. The potentially ruined items. The discarded rugs and the water they tracked through the house. The towels that now needed washing – in addition to our Minnesota Trip clothes. The faulty window. The mold that appeared to be growing on the basement wall.  It was a lot to process, and my processing skills – exhausted from the deep breathing and Anxiety-fighting pep talks – were zilch.

When everything goes wrong at once, it’s probably a lot for anyone to handle, but for those of us who battle anxiety, it can seem temporarily insurmountable. Anxiety is a real bitch. She whispers in our ears that we do not, in fact, have this. She reminds us of all that can go wrong – and then, when we attempt to counter her, counters us right back.

This is a disaster.

If I take it step by step, it’ll seem more manageable.

Maybe someone snuck in through the broken window. It might not be safe here.

The screen is still intact and the petsitter would have noticed.

If the infection has been there for a while, Langston’s hearing could be affected.

I’m sure he’ll be okay. I’ll bring him in tomorrow.

What if that’s not enough? What if you aren’t enough?

I’m trying. I’ve got this.

Do you, though? I bet other people don’t feel this way. You’re obviously broken.

That’s the real kicker. In addition to causing you to feel nervous and unsettled over even minor things, to making you go down every absurd rabbit hole and through all the obscure What Ifs, anxiety makes you question yourself. Can I really handle this? Why don’t other people do this? What’s wrong with me?

It was now well past 6:00 and the girls were starving, so I ordered dinner. I’d planned to cook but I – mercifully – decided to give myself a pass. It’s most important that they eat. It’s okay. Give yourself a break.

IMG_8422August sunset on Long Island.

While waiting for the order to be ready, I ventured back to the basement to change the laundry… and found, yet again, a puddle in front of the washer. The duct tape hadn’t held. We needed a repair person ASAP.
More hurdles. The course was getting long.

Anxiety, impatient, began to open the door.

Before returning upstairs, I stopped to check on the drying-out process – and was stunned to discover another big ol’ pile of water in the middle of the concrete. Assuming there was some scientific explanation (the water was sucked back to the surface through blah blah, science-y words), I knelt down with yet another towel to sop things up… and heard the dripping.

The air conditioner unit was leaking. A lot.

Somehow, not only had the window burst open in a torrent – flooding the basement – but the A/C was also hemorrhaging water onto the floor. How this twofer managed to occur at the exact same time is clearly the work of the devil.

Anxiety stepped in and closed the door behind her.

The sides of my vision began to darken. The warmth in my chest turned to heat. My stomach began to knot. In addition to my heartbeat flooding my ears, there was also this rush of nothing – like white noise – that grew ever louder. My hands started to shake.

Innnn two-three-four… Out two-three-four…

I debated getting some medication – the kind specifically prescribed for times like this – but heard Anxiety telling me it was a stupid idea. “Other people don’t need that. Don’t be weak. Shouldn’t you be able to manage on your own?”
Another ironic kicker: that anxiety can make us too nervous to take our anxiety medication.

Nick found me in the kitchen standing at the counter and immediately knew something was up.

“I’m having a panic attack.”

Rather than running, rather than ignoring, he came closer. Putting down what he was holding, he took me by the shoulders and told me, measured and calm, “Okay. Let’s do this. We can figure it out.”

Yes, we can. I can. Breathe, breathe, breathe.

I told him about the air conditioner (we added more towels). He hugged me; tight, long.

“I’m sorry that I’m sort of broken.”

“No. This situation just really sucks.”

I’ve had panic attacks before and know their paralyzing horribleness. I also know, every time, I’ve gotten through them. I know that they end. I know, if I’m persistent, I can shove Anxiety back out the door. But I still need to remind myself each time it happens.

Between Nick’s reassurance, my breathing, the eventual return of my self-belief, and deciding that taking Xanax was actually the smart, strong way to go, things got better. My heartbeat returned to normal. My vision cleared. My stomach relaxed.

By the time dinner was ready, I was back to myself. The girls never even knew what happened – which was both reassuring (I wouldn’t want to worry them) and disquieting… because I want them to know that this is nothing to be afraid or ashamed of. In fact, my hearing Anxiety’s self-doubt-filled warnings, flipping her off, and doing whatever it took to kick her out are not only not shame-worthy; they’re powerful and awesome.

We, as a nation, do such a poor job handling things like anxiety and depression. Their taboo nature makes difficult situations even more difficult. I want to show the girls that, despite my own statements to the contrary, I’m not broken. I’m me – strong, smart, kind, Starbucks-loving, kickass me – and just because Anxiety has barged in, those things don’t change.

Also? I’ve got her number.

Less than 24 hours after the panic attack, the A/C guy had come (sweet fancy Moses), the groceries were purchased, Langston got to the vet, the floor was dry, and I’d made appointments with the washing machine and mold folks. I also mowed the lawn – where, mid-backyard, the mower cord snapped and I sprained my toe. Two more hurdles. But this time, instead of panicking, I boldly kicked them aside.

I wrote about the whole shebang on Facebook, treating it more like a joke. 24 hours later, it was a joke –  but that was only part of the story, and I know that so many other people have similar stories… but we rarely share them. That’s why I decided to write about it: so that all of us who struggle with anxiety – or who recognize ourselves in this scenario – might feel a little less alone. Only by talking about it can we de-stigmatize it. So here I am, talking about it.

If you, too, battle anxiety, know that you’re not alone. You can do it – maybe on your own, maybe with the help of friends and family, maybe with the help of medication – but you can, and all of that is okay.

The hurdles will always appear… but remember that you don’t have to clear them. You just have to knock them down and keep going.

The girls having a blast at the Minnesota State Fair.
They keep me going.
Them… and caramel macchiatos. And Xanax. Amen.

Right This Very Minute

I’m not feeling quite myself this year. I don’t know exactly why – anxiety? Hints of depression? Late Thanksgiving, meaning fewer days between then and Christmas, meaning OhMyGodThereIsNoTimeWTF stress? I don’t know, but it’s been a bit rough these past few weeks.

I know I’m not alone in this. The holidays bring a mix of emotions for so many people – the glorious highs of… traditions! Food! Time with family! Decorating the tree! Yes, let’s watch Elf for the third time this month! And the soul-crushing lows of… so much to do! Time with family! What do you mean you want to ask Santa for something different? Holy crap, did I move the damn elf tonight? I AM BEING MERRY AND BRIGHT. This time of year can be difficult and stressful and exhausting under really good circumstances, but when you struggle with anxiety and depression, it can be a whole other ballgame.


When I was growing up, we used to watch the Rockefeller Center tree lighting on TV every year. Sometimes, in the living room, cozied up on the couch with a blanket. Other times, in the kitchen, standing beside the island or propped on one of the swivel bar chairs. I don’t remember many of the performances, but I do remember the grand ending: that magical moment when POP! all of the thousand gazillion lights illuminated at once, its own little Christmas miracle.

Because we lived just an hour outside of Manhattan, we used to see the tree quite often, too. It is absolutely as grand and marvelous in person as it is on television – more so, really – with the skating rink below (which is usually so crowded, you couldn’t pay me to set foot skate on it, but whatever) and – what used to be – quaint shops lining the plaza.

westchester tree
Visiting the tree in 2011.


Approximately ten days ago, a couple of friends and family members posted on Facebook that they had already completed their Christmas shopping. I didn’t really read their posts as bragging – more just jauntily and proudly stating a fact – but it still made me kind of want to refill their salt shakers with sugar.

Was I jealous? You bet your ass I was. Because, at that time, I had not purchased one single Christmas gift. NOT ONE SINGLE GIFT. Well, that’s not entirely true, because Nick and I picked up a few things for family members in Puerto Rico when we were there this summer, but I had not yet actively begun my real Christmas shopping. Alongside that jealousy, however, was a feeling of sheer panic: holy shit, I need to get shopping NOW but I have NO IDEA what to get everyone. There was exasperation. There was shame. There were tears. It was ugly.

Christmas is, really and truly, my most favorite time of the year. I’m “allowed” to listen to Christmas music on my birthday (November 22nd), but I sneak it earlier when I’m alone because it makes me so happy. The traditions my family has are among my most looked-forward-to moments of all of the days. I love December – the smells, the food; even that madness-inducing elf (who is rarely on a shelf) makes me smile rather than grouse. But the joy just hasn’t been there, which has only made me more upset.


I was mid-sentence talking to Annie last week when I suddenly remembered something from my to-do book that I’d forgotten about. As I recalled the item, I gasped out loud and interrupted myself, saying, “Oh shoot – I forgot about that!” Understandably, Annie asked what the problem was. I explained that there wasn’t really a problem – I’d just forgotten to do something on my list, and I’d need to do it later. I then sighed and muttered that I had a helluva lot to do, so my list would never really end – that’s just the way it is.

Annie brightened. “Mom? Let’s say that all of the things you have to do weigh something.”


“Let’s say that they weigh ten pounds. You’re carrying ten pounds.”

Okay, I can do that.

“Well now, guess what? You only have to carry five pounds!”

Ummm… And why is that?

“Because I’m going to take the other five pounds from you to help you out so you don’t have as much to do. Does that feel better?”

Sweet love, it feels incredible. That might be one of the nicest things anyone’s ever said to me.


Our advent calendars started a three days ago. This year, we’re doing RACKS – random acts of Christmas kindness – and I absolutely love that. I love that it makes me think of something beyond myself for a day, that I’m looking out into the world. I’m finding it really pretty amazing.

I’m also finding it hard to concentrate on what I want to be doing – RACKs, watching Christmas movies with the girls, reading Christmas books, just sitting back and enjoying the season – because of all the things I need to be doing. Most of the presents have been purchased by now (thank God for Amazon; setting foot into actual stores is making me break out in hives this year), but the ones that require some thought and attention – the homemade ones, the ones using photos and love and goodness, the ones that mean the most to me – are the ones that also require the most time and energy. I love doing it – I really do – but it is also exhausting and stressful.

Ditto for other Christmas traditions. That advent calendar? One of the best parts of the season, bar none, but it takes weeks of planning (and purchasing and researching and prepping) to pull it off successfully. I adore reading Christmas books with the girls and saw this cute idea online for wrapping 24 books and reading one each day. But then I found that I actually had to wrap the damn books, and now we need to find time to read them, which sometimes – even only three days in – feels more like a punishment than a reward.

How is it possible that the things I love the most are also the things that make me the most crazy?

Scratch that. I could say the same thing about basically every member of my family. Point taken.


The girls asked that we set aside time tonight to listen to the latest installment in our Percy Jackson saga. I agreed, especially given that it was early enough to listen to Percy and read tonight’s Christmas book. It would be a good night, damn it all!

We’d just begun listening to our new chapter shortly after 8 p.m. when the phone rang; I had no idea who would be calling (we don’t get too many calls at that hour aside from telemarketers) and was quite surprised to see my mom’s number on the caller ID. This was a particularly strange time to call; what on earth could she want? Did I forget to do something? Had something bad happened?

Hi, Mom!

“Honey? I don’t know if you’re aware, but the Rockefeller Center tree lighting is taking place tonight…”

Oh – no, I didn’t know…

“…  and Mariah Carey is singing ‘All I Want For Christmas Is You’**.”

** Ella’s favorite Christmas song, ever

Oh, okay…

“I mean right now. She’s singing right now, so if you want to turn it on…”

Great! I will! It’s on NBC, right?

“Yes, NBC…”

Thanks, Mom – turning it on now!


I paused the CD, fumbled with the remote and found our NBC affiliate (ironically, one of only two channels that I’ve actually memorized because virtually everything I watch is DVR’d), and we listened to Mariah. As the broadcast went to commercial, it informed us of who the upcoming singers and performers would be, including some names Ella and Annie recognized immediately – Idina Menzel (“That’s ELSA!!”), Pentatonix, Sara Bareilles (“She sings ‘Brave’!”), Lady Gaga, the Rockettes.

“Mom! Can we please watch the rest?? I don’t care if we skip Percy – we need to see this!”

And I realized, this wasn’t part of the plan… but yes indeed, we do need to see this. This is exactly what we need – a little Christmas, right this very minute. We scrambled upstairs and climbed into my bed to watch the TV in there and the girls were absolutely entranced, listening to every artist – even the ones with whom they were completely unfamiliar – with rapt attention.

Pentatonix had just begun to sing “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” when the phone rang again (“Who the $*#& is it now??”) and I heard my dad’s voice on the other end.

“Just wanted to be sure that you’re watching the Rockefeller Center…”

Yes! We are! We’re watching right now – thank you!

“Okay, good. Talk to you later.”

And with that, he hung up, having said all he needed to say.


During the commercial breaks, the girls and I found the time to read tonight’s book (Light of Christmas, about a boy who’s chosen to light his village’s Christmas tree – how d’you like THEM apples??). We snuggled closer after I expressed my surprise that the NBC Today Show hosts actually mentioned the protests that were occurring because of the failure to indict the (white) NYPD police officer who killed (black) Eric Garner after he put him in an (illegal) chokehold.

“But that’s not fair, Mama! How can that happen? Why are some people still afraid of black people? Why are black people still treated differently?”

Ah, my dears, the questions for the ages… I am so, so glad that you are asking, and we must continue this discussion… but for tonight I hope you’ll forgive me if we agree that it is not okay, agree that we must keep talking and make change, and then agree to take a deep breath and try to enjoy this tree lighting. 

“Okay, Mom. Let’s do that.”

And so we did, turning off the lights in the bedroom moments before the Rockefeller tree burst into dazzling color, twinkling everywhere – magic, right before our eyes.


I don’t know if it was fate, God, Santa Claus, or just good luck that guided my parents tonight, but the fact that both of them called to tell me about the tree lighting was really something spectacular. I cannot remember the last time that happened.

Whatever the reason, I’m damned glad they did, because tonight – for the first time in a long while – I feel like myself again. I’ve still got miles to go before I sleep (and, at 10:30 p.m., that’s saying something), but, because of those stolen magic moments with Annie and Ella, I somehow feel like it will all be okay.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to accomplish a few things before my alarm goes off to remind me to put the elf in a new place. I’m thinking maybe atop the new little Christmas tree that my mom sent the girls for Thanksgiving – you know, full circle and all that.

My view tonight – Ella on my left, Annie on my right, and Pentatonix on the TV. It was delightful.

We Are Not Alone

I had an entirely different post planned for today, but recent events have changed that. Sometimes you’ve just got to roll with the punches.

As I wrote on Facebook last night, it’s not often that the death of a celebrity affects me so strongly, I cannot stop crying. It’s very rare that anyone outside of my own personal sphere affects me profoundly enough for their passing to be completely overwhelming. But as I learned that the world had lost Robin Williams – that he had lost his own battle – I was just gutted.

I’ve spent last night and this morning attempting to understand why, indeed, I – like so many others – am so deeply upset by the loss of this particular man. There have been other comedians who have made my sides hurt from laughing. There have been other actors whose dramatic performances have taken my breath away. There have been other celebrities whose demons have overtaken them. Why is this so different for me?

I finally was able to narrow it down to two driving factors: Robin’s body of work, which so strongly impacted me; and the manner in which he died, which hits very, very close to home. Combine these and, well, I’m a mess.

You didn’t ask for a critique of his movie catalogue, so I won’t give you one (you’re welcome), but I still have a few things to say. The first time Mr. Williams really affected me was through the Good Morning Vietnam soundtrack. Not the movie itself (which I wouldn’t see until years later), but the soundtrack, which included many of Robin’s hilarious bits as disc jockey Adrian Cronauer. I listened so often, I could quote him word for word, and was quite taken aback when I finally did see the movie, which was far more serious and tragic than the album suggested.

It’s no secret that I have a flare for the melodramatic. This was probably never more obvious than when I was a teen, filled with typical teenage angst and turbulence, but with a serious bent for things that were “deep” and “moving” and “thought-provoking.” Dead Poets Society arrived at precisely this time and utterly swept me away – except, contrary to the other gag-inducing nonsense I was absorbing, it actually was a moving and thought-provoking film – so much so that one of my best friends and I created our own secret Dead Poets Society. Given that it was, you know, a secret society, I won’t give away the details here; suffice it to say that it was an incredibly important, transformative part of my adolescence – all thanks to Robin Williams.

Ever the Disney fan, I was blown away by Aladdin’s humor. By the time my college roommate and I arrived on campus, we were each more than familiar with Aladdin. Other students would play the movie on their itty bitty dorm-room TVs, which we could see from the windows outside of our own fourth floor room; the two of us would sit in the window wells and watch the entire film. We couldn’t hear a word, mind you, but that didn’t matter, because we’d already memorized the entire script, with the Genie’s lines being our best-loved, of course.

Although I didn’t fully realize it until yesterday, Robin Williams’s film work impacted me tremendously. (His stand-up and interviews – with his appearance on Inside The Actor’s Studio being absolutely epic – were mind-blowing in their intensity, genius, and hilarity. I loved watching those moments, but they didn’t affect me the way that his movies did.) I cannot quite believe that his body of work has ended.

Williams’s death has struck me in a much more personal way, however, because of the horribly tragic manner in which he died. Mental illness is something with which I am all too familiar. I have friends and family who have struggled with depression, anxiety, OCD, and bipolar disorder. I’ve had friends and acquaintances who have committed suicide. But those are their stories; I don’t feel comfortable sharing them. Instead, I will share mine.

It’s often cited that mental illness – or a predisposition toward it – runs in families. For my part, I seem to have lucked out by inheriting the depression and anxiety genes. Looking back, I see now that I’ve struggled with anxiety for most of my life – nothing crippling (typically), but certainly present. It’s still something that I work to keep in check, something that’s always bubbling below the surface.

Anxiety and depression often go hand in hand, and I am no exception to that. My first and strongest bout of depression – not just feeling a little down and out, but an actual, diagnosed clinical depression – occurred during the summer of 2008. As with so many people who suffer from depression, there was no single causal factor, no specific trigger. I just gradually stopped caring – stopped feeling anything, really – until it seemed that I was floating through the world without a place to land.

Sadness doesn’t accurately describe it; hopeless comes closer. It just felt like nothing would ever be good again, and then I stopped caring whether or not things would ever be good again. I cried at everything and nothing. I hid behind corners in the grocery store so I wouldn’t have to see anyone. I closed myself behind bathroom doors in my house so that I could cry away from the girls, who were both very little at the time. I had no desire to engage in any of the activities that normally appealed to me. I didn’t care about seeing my in-person friends and didn’t care about communicating with my online friends.. I felt suspended, drifting, lost.

But, despite the bizarre, floaty nothingness, I knew enough to know that I didn’t want to go on like that. I wanted to be the kind of mom who delighted in her children, not one who looked off in the distance, completely disengaged while they played at her feet. I wanted to have meaningful – or even lighthearted – conversations with my husband instead of avoiding him. I wanted to find joy again.

And so I sought help, both through talk therapy and medication. It wasn’t easy; I was embarrassed and ashamed, not to mention that just getting myself out of the house was a feat because I had zero motivation or energy. I knew, though, what the consequences could be if I didn’t get help, if I didn’t make a damned good effort to get better. I wasn’t about to do that to my family or even to myself; when I could see through the haze that had settled in around me, I knew that there were oh so many reasons to keep going. It’s just that believing that, in that moment, was all but impossible.

Thankfully – miraculously? – I never considered suicide, even when I was in the darkest depths. I wanted to feel better. I needed to feel better. It took a good deal of time, but with the help of several professionals as well as medication (which I no longer need, save for the Xanax, amen), I slowly climbed out of the hole and began to see daylight again. The air was cleaner up there; it felt good. Six months later, I felt like I’d regained solid footing. I had beaten depression… this time.

I know, though, that for the rest of my life, I will be fighting. There have been many, many times in the past (now) eight years when I have felt those walls closing in, when I began to feel suspiciously, awfully detached again; and every time, I have steeled myself to push back. Depression likes to lie low but it never goes away; it is always ready to rear its hideously ugly head, often at the slightest provocation – to start another fight. It is a battle that I fully intend to win, but the enemy is ruthless and mean and cunning; it can creep back in when I least expect it. Living with depression – not being depressed, but as a person in whom depression resides – requires a constant level of awareness and vigilance that, quite frankly, is sometimes exhausting.

But there’s no choice, so the fight continues. Forever.

These may seem like extremely personal details to be sharing; they are. But part of why depression is so powerful and devastating is that it makes you feel alone, that you are fighting all by yourself, that no one else understands. It makes you feel embarrassed and ashamed of being who you are. It convinces you that no one else cares what happens to you – or, at its worst, they would be better off without you.

I am here to tell you that you are not alone. You are not fighting by yourself. I understand – not your exact circumstances, but that terrible, bizarre, detached feeling? I understand.

We, as a society, are rocked by the aftereffects of mental illness and addiction (which are so closely linked) time and time again – from school shootings to overdoses – and yet we very rarely talk openly about what it means to suffer from mental illness, nor how to help those who do. There remains a stigma surrounding it, which is largely perpetuated by our continued silence, shame, and lack of discussion. Today, I am breaking my silence.

Depression isn’t a game. It isn’t something to be treated lightly or messed with. It is not made-up and “thinking happy thoughts” does not make you feel better. Admitting that you’re struggling with depression doesn’t make you weak or pathetic or pitiable. Not addressing it can be deadly… in the most literal of ways. And that is why depression is so scary, and why we must connect with one another, why we must reach out to those of us who are in darkness or are hurting. That is why we must talk about it.

I feel tremendously fortunate, and to-my-core grateful, that, while in the throes of depression, I have never contemplated ending my own life. I am devastated that Robin Williams saw no other alternative, and that the demons won. His death is especially poignant for me because… well… there but for the grace of God go I.

If you suspect that a friend or family member may be depressed, talk to them. Show them that you aren’t ashamed to discuss this beast, that you’re there to listen, and that you love them, no matter what. If you are depressed, or if you think you are depressed, or if you just don’t know which end is up, please seek help. There is no shame or vulnerability in doing so; in fact, it takes tremendous courage and strength (which totally sounds like I’m bragging, but after working so hard to kick depression in the face, I think it’s okay to feel a little badass). If it seems like no one understands, please talk to someone; so many people do get it. If it seems like you have no support network, please reach out; nets of encouragement and love can spring up seemingly out of nowhere, buoying you until you have the ability to stand on your own again. I know they did for me, once I finally mustered the courage to extend my arms and legs.

And if you feel like all hope is lost and the only answer is to take your own life – or if you believe that someone else is considering doing so – please, please call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

Like millions of people around the world, I am heartsick that Robin Williams is no longer with us, while I am also profoundly grateful for the gifts he gave us and the ways he touched my life – the ways he made me think, made me cry, made me laugh. At first, I thought that it would be pointless to add my voice to the endless chorus of people who have expressed their grief over Robin’s suicide; I have nothing new to add, nothing unique or special to say. But now I think that perhaps our shared perspective is exactly the point. We are all in this together. We are here for one another; we are not alone.  We can change how mental illness is perceived and treated. We will get through this world side by side – by supporting each other, encouraging each other, helping each other, challenging each other, and loving each other.

And by spreading laughter and joy every chance we get.

To you, Mr. Williams… I’m so very sorry. You were astounding. Thank you, thank you.

In the words of Adrian Cronauer: “Take care of yoursel(f). I won’t forget you.”


* For one of the first times ever, there are no photos to accompany this post – not even irreverent ones of my kids – because none seemed right.

Nick and I do plan on watching Mrs. Doubtfire with them as soon as possible**, however, because Helllllloooooo… that is more than right.


** Update, August 2015: We have watched Mrs. Doubtfire with the girls; not surprisingly, they adored it. Now we can’t wait to show them The Birdcage — in a few years, of course.